THE amazing story of a Redditch man's survival after bailing out of an RAF plane over Holland during the Second World War is finally coming to light.

And Warrant Officer Arthur Digby Clayton’s story highlights the lengths some quite extraordinary Dutch citizens went to in order to protect him, knowing it could ultimately result in their death, should they be found out.

Arthur's family came from Redditch and he was educated at St Stephen's and St George's schools.

He lied about his age to join the RAF in 1943, aged just 17. He completed his training and became a qualified gunner. He was then handpicked for Pathfinders 635 Squadron.

The Pathfiners were elite RAF squadrons which located and marked targets with flares for a main bomber force to aim at.

It was on January 5, 1945, that Arthur was the rear gunner on a Lancaster, heading to Hanover for what is believed to be a raid on a munitions factory. The Lancaster was hit by a German anti warcraft missile. The plane was on fire and the crew was given orders to bail out. Arthur found his boot was stuck in part of the plane's mechanism and he had to quickly remove his footwear to get out of the rear gunner position and parachuted down in pitch black.

He had come down in Jipsingshuizen, in occupied Holland, just miles from the German border.

Arthur found himself at a farmhouse and, thankfully, there was a sympathetic Dutch family living there. He was concealed in a wardrobe in the house while the family went to nearby Veendam, and contacted members of the Dutch resistance.

What followed over the next four months for Arthur was a treacherous, often terrifying, cat and mouse existence.

He spent a lot of time hidden in the roof of Veendam Town Hall aided by Berend Eenjes, the concierge of the hall, and Johann Pol, a butcher.

Such warmth and friendship developed between the three, that the two Dutch men and their wives were invited as guests of honour to Arthur's wedding to his sweetheart Doreen Merry in December 1946. A report and photo of which appeared in the Redditch Indicator.

The men had to be extremely careful when hiding Arthur in the town hall as not only was it used as a Nazi meeting place, but the Germans would often conduct searches to make sure nobody was concealed.

Arthur was the only one of the Lancaster crew not captured - and the Germans were desperate to find him.

On some occasions, when searches were being carried out, Arthur would conceal himself by slipping through a trapdoor into a space between the floor of one room and the ceiling of another. The 19-year-old would have no doubt have been cramped, struggling to breath, and utterly petrified.

Believing it safer to try and move Arthur around, the Dutch resistance stole a fake identity for him. Arthur suddenly found himself pretending to be a deaf, dumb, mute, shoemaker.

During his time in Holland, Arthur was also sent to hide in a mental institute in Wagenborgen. A 91-year-old nurse is still alive today who was working at the institute at the time.

She recalls that she didn't quite believe who people were claiming Arthur was - a deaf, dumb, mute, shoemaker, but she couldn't quite put her finger on who he might be.

But she also remembers that she was told if any trouble happened on the wards, this man would be able to help out.

Arthur was not just a dangerous secret these brave Dutch people fought desperately to keep, he also played his part in community life.

One such example of this was when he helped Pol, the butcher, distribute meat to people starving because of the harsh rationing imposed by the Nazis.

The Germans had said the Dutch were not allowed to slaughter their own cattle to eat - unless the food was unfit for human consumption, as the Germans would not want it then. Suddenly, there was a marked rise in the number of cattle being declared unfit for human consumption. And Pol and Arthur would often be seen travelling in the middle of the night on Pol's bicycle, brandishing joints of meat for starving families.

It must have been with no small amount of sadness, and relief, that Arthur and his saviours found out Veendam was to be liberated, in May, 1945.

Arthur rushed to meet allied troops at the town's border and for the first time could openly declare who he was to everyone in the town.

The sense of unbelievable guilt that one or more of these people could be killed for protecting Arthur was suddenly lifted - but the weight of gratitude never left.

He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Gallantry, along with the Aircrew Europe Star, the War Medal 1939-45 and the 1939-45 Star.

DESPITE the amazing story of Warrant Officer Arthur Digby Clayton’s time in Holland, his family knew very little details, until last year.

His niece Jessica Hopper, from Kiddermisnter, found several old photos of her uncle and decided to dig around to uncover his story.

Jessica called the Air Ministry, MOD and RAF but either drew a blank, was told she could not have information, not being next of kin, or that the information was not being released until 2020.

A friend of Jessica's lives in Holland and her boyfriend is a major in the army. Although they could not help with information, they put her in touch with an archivist called Betty at a Second World War museum in Holland who found a photo of Arthur in a book.

Being new to the role of archivist and desperate to prove herself, Betty more than rose to the challenge of uncovering Arthur’s story, and contacted people in Veendam, where Arthur had been hidden for several months.

It was down to Betty’s dogged termination that last year Arthur’s daughters Lesley Griffin, Shirley Clayton-Rogers and Ann Evans found themselves on an emotional trip over to Holland, where they were treated like royalty and met the children of Berend Eenjes and Johann Pol, who had been Arthur’s main saviours.

Leslie, from Ullenhall, said: “We went over there to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for what they did for our dad. If it wasn’t for their actions, it is likely that none of us would be here, as Dad would not have lived.

“Words really failed us when we tried to thank them, but, to our disbelief, they ended up thanking us for the role of the RAF during the war. This really demonstrates what humble, wonderful people they are.

“We were shocked that so many people who had played a part in dad’s story are still alive today - it was an unbelievably moving time for us.”

The sisters visited some of the places where their dad had been hidden, and seeing the tiny space where he had hidden from Nazis in the town hall really brought home what hell he had lived through.

The Dutch press filmed the entire visit last year, and on Friday, June 3, a crew came over to England to interview the sisters, and Jessica, about Arthur.